Many pastors live and die by our books. Commentaries are particularly important. A pastor without commentaries can be like a carpenter without a hammer and saw. My collection is hardly authoritative. But what I’ve compiled here is my recommendations for each of the books of the New Testament. I’m sure I don’t own all the good options out there. I have a running “wishlist” and am more than happy to take suggestions. There are several NT books which I don’t preach from as often which I have fewer resources for, but I have made sure that I have a few options for each. But these are the standouts from my experience and interaction. I’ve tried to pick one “must have” for this list. For some, it’s obviously harder than others. If you want multiple recommendations, see my list here. So if your favourite isn’t here, it may be because I don’t own it or have never used it, or perhaps because it was good, but I prefer another. So here goes…
Matthew: If you can only own one commentary on Matthew, get R.T. France’s NICNT. I love this commentary. The introduction is brief, but points to other secondary works where more in depth treatments of introductory material can be found. The commentary is well-balanced and easy to follow. The research is up to date, and well laid out in footnotes to avoid it bogging down the flow of the exposition.
Mark: Top spot on Mark also goes to R.T. France; this time in the NIGTC series. I cannot say enough good things about this one. It’s detailed, well structured, and surprisingly pastor friendly for a highly technical commentary (you’ll need some Greek knowledge to make full use of this one). I was using Mark for my Lenten series in 2013, and this commentary was incredibly useful, clear, deep, and beautifully written.
Luke: Joel B. Green’s volume in the NICNT series is the most comprehensive (and best) single-volume commentary on Luke. Luke is not easy to condense into a single volume and still be sufficiently detailed, but Green’s commentary is jam-packed, and as detailed as some multi-volume sets.
John: Raymond E. Brown’s 2 Volume Anchor Bible commentary is my preference for more technical and critical stuff, and even though it’s been out for a long time, it is still relevant and useful. Only recently, has there been a real challenger; the 2015 volume by Marianne Meye Thompson (New Testament Library), which is a bit more current and far more succinct and user-friendly.
Acts: Here, I recommend three above the rest: one is Ben Witherington III’s Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Though focused on historical context and rhetorical style, rather than exposition, this still provides a lot of helpful exegesis. The second is Joseph A. Fitzmyer’s Anchor Bible volume, which has a very extensive introduction, detailed notes throughout on background and intertextuality, as well a very robust theological interpretation. The third is the best short commentary on Acts: Luke Timothy Johnson’s volume in the Sacra Pagina series. Johnson also wrote the Luke volume for that series and the two are outstanding expositional commentaries which avoid the rabbit-trails of commenting on other commentaries.
Romans: My preference is either the NIGTC volume by Richard Longenecker, or the Sacra Pagina volume by Brendan Byrne or the Anchor Bible by Joseph Fitzmyer. Longenecker is more recent; released in 2016. The phrase “game-changer” gets thrown around a lot, but in this case, it fits. Longenecker is sensitive to the New Perspective on Paul, and incorporates much of that research to balance out traditional reformed readings of Romans. Unlike most NIGTC volumes, Longenecker includes a “contextualization” section, helping bring the meaning of the 1st century Greek text into the present, as well as a “biblical theology” section which helps place a specific pericope within the broader world of biblical theology. Byrne is a Jesuit scholar, taking a more succinct approach. He does get into some critical scholarship issues, particularly rhetorical criticism, but stays primarily focused on the exposition of the text and its overarching purpose, and does so beautifully. Fitzmyer is also a Jesuit scholar, and master commentary writer with tons of expertise in the social setting of the NT.
1 Corinthians: A tricky epistle to nail down sometimes, with a few “touchy” subjects covered and a lot of hermeneutical puzzles. I love Richard Hays’ Interpretation series volume. The one shortfall is lack of depth on the Greek text (not within the scope of the series, but in 1 Cor there are significant translation and manuscript issues). The best semi-technical, and probably best all-around option is Gordon Fee’s NICNT (2nd edition, 2014), which I absolutely love. This is everything a good commentary should be. If you can only get one, I’d suggest Fee.
2 Corinthians: Frank Matera’s New Testament Library volume has been the one I’ve used most, and would probably be my first choice. It’s less well known, but still a very good commentary. It’s fairly technical, but manageable for someone with only basic level Greek, and even someone with no Greek can still get much from this one. David Garland’s NAC is the other one I’d recommend, even though I think the intro is a bit too brief. I think the exegesis is a bit more useful for preaching and bible study than Matera.
Galatians: Although I also really like Richard Longenecker’s WBC volume, I find it not always great for sermon prep, in part because WBC’s formatting is hardly user friendly, but it includes some New Perspective elements overlooked by others. But the new NICNT replacement for Fung’s volume by David DeSilva is far more user-friendly, and equally sound and robust in its exegesis as Longenecker.
Ephesians: Klyne Snodgrass’ NIVAC is among the most useful and theologically engaging commentaries on my shelves. It is pastorally inspiring, concise, and still sufficently detailed. It captures the beauty of the christological emphasis of Ephesians in a way which is incredible, but also connects that with application for contemporary context.
Philippians: Gordon Fee’s NICNT is definitely the best option I’ve used. The fantastic introduction covers the context and genre extremely well. The exegesis balances technical detail with useful exposition for preaching. Fee is one of those scholars who is immensely brilliant, but can still write for a pastor incredibly well, and this comes through in his commentary.
Colossians: On Colossians, James D.G. Dunn’s NIGTC on Colossians and Philemon is probably the most thorough, and where I have been going to first, but I find myself disagreeing with some of Dunn’s conclusions (which typically doesn’t happen) epsecially on authorship (Dunn’s degree of certainty against Pauline authorship is, in my opinion, unjustified) and he comes up a tad short on Philemon. Two other more pastor-friendly options for Colossians are McKnight’s brand new NICNT (replacing the good, but way too short Col/Eph/Phlm volume by Bruce) or Jerry Sumney (NTL). Both deal with Colossians alone, without Philemon. McKnight defends Pauline authorship, while Sumney goes the other way, though not with a high degree of certainty, and his position doesn’t distract from reading the text well.
1 & 2 Thessalonians: My first choice is still F.F. Bruce’s WBC volume. Although it’s now 30+ years old, it still hasn’t been surpassed by anything I’ve read. It’s nuanced, reliable, and not interested in wild speculation.
Pastoral Epistles: Here I used go with William Mounce’s WBC first. Mounce’s introduction and discussion of authorship issues is very good, and he interacts throughout with the varying perspectives on authorship and how that may affect interpretation, and is very balanced and charitable. Overall Mounce covers controversial issues with the content well and graciously, but I disagree with his complementarian reading of 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Now, Luke Timothy Johnson’s Anchor Bible volume (which doesn’t include Titus) is probably my preferred choice on the Letters to Timothy.
Philemon: While volumes dedicated to Philemon alone are not plentiful, and in many commentaries on Colossians and Philemon together, Philemon doesn’t get the coverage it deserves (my favourite Philemon commentary in a combined volume is David Garland’s NIVAC). The two commentaries on Philemon alone which are excellent options are Joseph Fitzmyer’s Anchor Bible volume, and the more recent NICNT volume by Scot McKnight. McKnight is geared more towards a pastoral audience, and is probably the better option for preaching, and spends more time examining ancient slavery as part of Paul’s historical reality and how he navigates that. Fitzmyer is more technical and covers the history of interpretation in more detail.
Hebrews: Luke Timothy Johnson’s New Testament Library volume is my first choice. In fact, all around, it is among my favourite commentaries on any book of the bible I have on my shelves. It’s a must have.
James: For the best, most comprehensive introduction, Luke Timothy Johnson’s Anchor Bible is the stand out. Scot McKnight’s NICNT volume is a solid, and innovative approach (he very intentionally doesn’t filter James through Paul and protestant readings of Paul, but lets James stand on its own terms, rather than spending lots of time trying to reconcile the two). McKnight is detailed in the introduction, but not as extensive as Johnson, but sets the context well. McKnight’s approach to the text illuminates the unity of what has often been considered a disjointed text, and the format is more user friendly than the AB. If you want just one commentary, I would suggest that McKnight is the best overall option, with Johnson a very, very close second. But if you can, get both, and Ralph Martin’s WBC volume too.
1 Peter: I would highly recommend I. Howard Marshall’s IVPNTC, even though I do have several more in-depth treatments (Ramsey, Jobes, Donelson, and Davids). The series is certainly not exhaustive. But Marshall’s 1 Peter commentary is excellent, and captures well the theological thrust of the epistle. Marshall is a top notch scholar, but has managed to put together a more popular level commentary without “dumbing down”, which is not an easy task. Peter Davids NICNT would be my more in-depth choice.
2 Peter/Jude: Richard Bauckham’s WBC is certainly the best I’ve worked with. Bauckham’s expertise in Jewish Apocalyptic writings and eschatology make him the best person to comment on these two texts.
Johanine Epistles: 1 John still holds a special place in my heart. My first sermon at Centre Street was on 1 John 1:1-8. The first scripture verse I ever memorized was 1 John 5:13. I prefer Raymond Brown’s mammoth 800 page Anchor Bible volume, which is superb, and still, after 35 years, the most comprehensive and important volume on these relatively short texts. Judith Lieu’s recent volume in the NTL series is also a fantastic, more succinct option. If you don’t do Greek, Marianne Meye Thompson’s IVPNTC is a very good non-technical option.
Revelation: Beale’s NIGTC is a great option; more in-depth than Smalley, but not as overwhelming as Aune who can sometimes get lost in minutia. More recently I’ve added Koester’s Anchor Bible volume and Brian Blount’s NTL volume and both have similar perspectives on Revelation, but Koester has a bit more detail. Overall, I’d probably go with Koester as my preferred ommentary. While not actually commentaries, Michael Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly and Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation are great aids for hermeneutical issues.